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Building Better Brains

Ages 0 – 3

From 0 – 3 years old, there are many things we can do to build better brains. Movement, balance, and the use of our senses form the foundation for all learning experiences. Enjoy every moment as you share in your child's growth and development. Some neuro-developmental themes and tips include:


Hang a simple pendulum from the ceiling (or a mobile). A mobile has multiple stimuli and it doesn't have the same range of motion as a pendulum, nor does it demand the same amount of attention as a singular pendulum. The ability to visually follow this form helps the infant prepare for rolling over. The eye movement also prepares the child for scanning, a necessary skill for learning to read.

While feeding or reading to your child, alternate the sides to which you are holding the child in order to stimulate bilateral sensory-integration. Example: An 8-month old child was brought to me who only used her right arm and leg when creeping on the floor. She went to the pediatrician, who said there was no need to worry. I asked the mother to tell me all about her day with her daughter. The new mother was so proud that her daughter loved when she read stories to her. She read stories 3 times a day for about 40 minute intervals. I had the mother show me how she read to the child. She always held the child on her left side and turned the pages with her right hand. I requested that the mother read to the child on her right side for two weeks and then alternate sides from thereafter. I also instructed the mother to put her child on her knees so tat the child's hips would have an opportunity to experience mobility. Within two weeks, the child was using both sides of her body to crawl.

Let the child explore movement. Don't hold the child hostage to a chair or a jumping seat. Movement is the infant's language. Exploring and experimenting with movements builds balance and control.

Allow the child to explore with his/her food. Playing with the different textures of food can help the child develop tactile kinesthetic sensory integration and motor skills. Finger differentiation also contributes to speech development.

Begin to develop the ability to cross the midline for neuro-motor functioning. When you had a 4-month old an object on their right side, they will naturally reach for the object with their right hand. In an effort to cross the midline, hold the infant's right hand and hand the the 4-month old something on their right side. This forces the child to reach for the object with his/her left hand, thereby crossing the midline. Do this with both hands. Among other things, your child's tennis or golf swing will not be short. They will be able to follow-through.

**We are on our way to cross-fertilizing the brain – cross training the brain.**

2-year olds

A 2-year-old should be able to participate in one meal a day with the family and keep his feet grounded! His/her feet must firmly hit a base — use a box if you need to. This helps the child maintain focus and concentration for longer periods of time. (Try doing your taxes on a bar stool without a place to rest your feet. Do I need to say more?) Until your child is five feet tall, this tip should be of constant concern if you want your child to perform at his/her best.

Begin to develop a healthy internal dialogue for your child to carry throughout their life. How you parent, criticize, compliment and organize information for your child becomes his internal dialogue — the way he begins to problem-solve, plan and place himself in the world. If you only comment when there is a problem — a spill or a misbehavior, the child internalizes a critical voice. If you honestly compliment and correct when appropriate, a benevolent parenting voice is internalized. Take a moment to reflect on your own internal dialogue. Are you hyper-critical of yourself? Do you only have a monologue (one way of viewing a situation)? Do you think that you are special and that you should be treated differently than everyone else? Or do you have a dialogue in your head, many ideas and variations? Ideally we want realistic, benevolent parenting. Conversation with your infant and toddler that reflects this approach will transfer to his meta-cognitive conversation and will prepare your child with the disposition for learning. Healthy meta-cognitive conversation will help your child recognize that:

• Mistakes are a part of learning

• Without risk, there is no learning

• Perseverance is necessary to build skills

• A good sense of humor is important

• We just don't do it, we think before we act.

The foundation for learning how to learn is reinforced when you have healthy internal dialogue. Building healthy, smart, confident children is easier when their experiences are reinforced with self-assuring meta-cognitive conversation.

**Raising children is not about creating a structured musical score, it is about learning how to be a jazz musician — perfecting the art and skill of improvisation.**

© Copyright 2004 Donalee Markus, Ph.D. & Associates